One of my favourite food bloggers Helen Graves of Food Stories selflessly subjected herself to an evening of chocolate and cocktail pairing at Choc Tales, a highlight of London's recent Chocolate Week which saw some of the country’s best chocolatiers paired with premier booze hounds. Here’s her report:
A creaky old candlelit townhouse in Soho. Five rooms, five different chocolate and cocktail experiences:
Damian Allsop joined forces with Martin Miller’s Gin; a truly engaging speaker, Damian talked through the proper method for tasting chocolate by way of a single unadulterated disc of Pacari Raw melting on the tongue. First acidity, then fruit, sharp blackcurrant, tea and finally, leather. Next, his ganache, made using water instead of cream and butter, which dilute the true flavours of the chocolate. Examples were smooth as silk, smeared on a bed rock of honeycomb textured blackberry and matcha tea strips; like neon Crunchie bars, picking up on two of Allsop’s favourite flavours in the raw product.
Chocolate initiated, the first cocktail was received, as ever, with much enthusiasm; a ‘deconstructed bramble’ containing oleo saccharum (lemon oil extracted by pounding the zest with sugar), green tea (see a pattern here?), Miller’s gin and fancy ass spheres of cassis twinkling at the bottom of the glass. Dangerously fresh, it was knocked back like water.
The Grenada Chocolate Company paired their 71% chocolate and Gran Reserva rum ganache with hot buttered rum; the drink of dreams. How nice of the weather to match the drink so perfectly I thought, as the rain battered the windows and my hands wrapped around a steaming glass of spiced booze. This drink could effortlessly cure most problems, except, perhaps, obesity. A thumping bass of Santa Teresa gold rum, spiced apple juice, the bitter caramel flavour of treacle, schmoozed into submission by the magical hand of melted butter. Smooth ganache slid around my butter-coated mouth leaving, somehow, a hint of banana.
Smoky Johnny Walker Blue Label whisky came with a fluffy chocolate pyramid hiding a centre of crème brulée, and an apricot sauce flecked with vanilla. ‘It’s real vanilla!’ we were told. I should think so, too. I enjoyed the classic combination of whisky and apricots; a safe match but none the worse for it.
An Artisan du Chocolat ‘wafer’ snapped satisfyingly in the mouth releasing its sultry salted caramel centre. An accompanying Aperol spritz and cocoa pulp sorbet cocktail was visually dramatic; a glam version of an old school coke float, basically. The cocoa pulp sorbet, subtle with almond flavour excited the fizz until it spilled over the rim of glass inviting giggles and frantic slurps.
Finally, Paul A Young paired his stunning shiny chocolates with margaritas made by Cleo Rocos, of Aqua Riva tequila (no, I didn’t know she made tequila either). This effervescent pair are as entertaining as their products; the tequila makes a clean tasting margarita without a hint of burn, while Paul’s chocolates picked up the citrus theme using kalamansi, a South East Asian fruit with the appearance of a lime but a more complex flavour profile. We were encouraged to eat the chocolate whole then take a sip of the margarita to initiate a taste experience bordering on the explicit. This was one of my favourite matches of the evening, although in the end, it was a close call with that hot buttered rum . . .
Here’s the recipe from Felix Cohen of Manhattans Project.
Hot Buttered Rum
1 litre apple juice
125 grams butter
100ml golden syrup
1 teaspoon allspice
Golden rum (Felix used Santa Teresa Anejo)
Heat the apple juice, and add the butter in chunks, stir in the golden syrup and treacle and once everything is mixed well, add the allspice. Once it's at about 80 degrees, the mixture is ready to mix with the rum.
Add a shot of rum to each glass then ladle over the hot buttered mixture - about 4:1 i.e. 100ml butter mixture to 25ml rum. It’s nice to serve this with a cinnamon stick in the glass, to use as a stirrer. Make sure the mixture is well stirred at all times.
Manhattans Project is located downstairs on Fridays and Saturdays at Off Broadway, Broadway Market.
Photographs © Paul Winch-Furness